There’s strong support from a Charles Sturt University (CSU) academic for a national review of the child protection laws and processes affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Senior lecturer Dr Katherine McFarlane has welcomed the release of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) Report, Pathways to Justice – An Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
> The ALRC Report makes 35 recommendations to reduce the disproportionate incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and improve community safety.
> Report found that the care-to-prison pathway is a major driver of Indigenous people’s involvement with the law.
> One of its recommendations calls for a national inquiry into child protection laws for Indigenous young people.
> Report cites CSU academic Dr Katherine McFarlane’s research into the involvement of children in out-of-home care in the NSW criminal justice system.
The ALRC concluded that the links between the child protection system, juvenile justice and adult incarceration is so strong that the child removal into out-of-home care and juvenile detention could be considered as key drivers of adult imprisonment.
Figures in the Report show that Indigenous people were seven times more likely than non-Indigenous people to be charged with an offence following a police interaction, 11 times more likely to be held on remand, and 12 times more likely to receive a custodial sentence. Although Indigenous adults make up two per cent of the Australian population, they represent 27 per cent of the national prison population.
"Governments must accept the unpalatable reality that what we do to keep children safe is actually propelling them into the criminal justice system," said CSU Centre for Law and Justice acting Director Dr Katherine McFarlane.
"The ALRC Report found that the care-to-prison pathway is a major driver of Indigenous people’s involvement with the law. This is a national disgrace.”
Dr McFarlane’s 2016 research of almost 200 NSW Children’s Court criminal files were used by the ALRC to support the recommendation that the Commonwealth Government establish a national inquiry into child protection laws and processes affecting Indigenous children.
“The impact of Australia’s child removal practices and subsequent institutionalisation of children has been known for decades.
“A national inquiry would allow the care-to-prison pathway to finally be examined and for solutions to be developed to end this avoidable tragedy,” Dr McFarlane concluded.
The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) Report, Pathways to Justice – An Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples was tabled in Federal Parliament on Wednesday 28 March.
The Report’s Recommendation 15: ‘Acknowledging the high rate of removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children into out-of-home care and the recognised links between out-of-home care, juvenile justice and adult incarceration, the Commonwealth Government should establish a national inquiry into child protection laws and processes affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’.
Dr Katherine McFarlane is acting Director of the University’s Centre for Law and Justice. She is a former Executive Officer of the NSW Children’s Court, the NSW Sentencing Council and Chief of Staff to the NSW Minister for Family and Community Services.
The Centre for Law and Justice at CSU offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses in law, criminal justice and legal ethics.
She is currently leading a CSU research team in the project, ‘Children in Out-Of-Home-Care (OOHC) in the criminal justice system: The view of Frontline Criminal Justice Professionals’. The study is funded by the Criminology Research Advisory Council. Read more in CSU News here.